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Willful blindness: 5 reasons why it’s important to get your head out of the sand

Willful blindness. It’s actually a legal term that means, you should have known, but refused to know. Think of the legal analyst and top-level executives involved in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi Scheme. This is an example of widespread institutional and a governing bodies’ willful blindness. But we all engage in willful blindness to some degree in our lives, often putting ourselves and those close to us at risk.

Willful blindness in our personal lives can be very detrimental because problems are not addressed, but rather ignored and the consequences can be devastating. This keeps us from growing and evolving.

Here are 5 common practices of willful blindness and reasons why we should take notice NOW:

Maintaining the status quo. We are all members of families, groups and organizations that have firmly established ways of thinking, doing and living. This leads to similar mentalities being shared among members about certain things. It can take a lot of moxy to be the one to stand up and ask questions.

The truth is, when we question the status quo, it can open doors to innovative new ways of looking at things that lead to positive changes. Questioning the status quo doesn’t have to lead to doing things drastically different (although it may), but it does help you to stay fresh and consider how needs and wants may be changing. This can be particularly true in business and our careers, but also in our families.

Fear of conflict. Some people are so conflict resistant, they will tolerate very uncomfortable situations in order to not have any conflict.

Conflict gets a bad reputation. We should not see conflict as “bad”, but rather, see the intense fear of conflict as the culprit. Conflict can and does improve our relationships. Often people are misguided in their beliefs that conflict will end a relationship when actually total lack of conflict can be much more detrimental. Some experts believe that having a major conflict a week is a sign of a healthy relationship or family. When we engage in healthy conflict, problems get addressed and resolved, healing is allowed to take place and it becomes possible to move forward in healthy ways. When there is no conflict, the problems don’t go away, but rather gain energy and become worse…what resists persists and what is addressed falls away.

Acknowledging the problem means you have to do something about it. When we acknowledge a problem, we have to either do something about it or admit that we aren’t willing to do anything differently. Often times, this puts us in conflict with the way we see ourselves or want others to see us. If you don’t know something is wrong, you can’t be held responsible, but if you know and don’t do anything, well, that’s obviously bad! Some people can successfully do this and go about their merry way, but most people cannot. (I once had a very close family member who used this strategy for almost every problem that occurred and it consistently resulted in painful outcomes).

This strategy allows you to be a victim of circumstance rather than a mature member of the family, group or organization. Problems left unresolved will only grow and eventually reach a point of crisis. Financial problems not nipped in the bud, can lead to financial ruin. Drug / alcohol abuse and experimentation can lead to addiction and lifelong problems. Unresolved problems in a marriage often lead to divorce. When we acknowledge the problems we are empowered to do things differently and learn from our mistakes. Life is about learning and when we learn from our mistakes and problems, we can grow in ways we never thought possible and create entirely new and better futures for ourselves and others.

Futility Thinking. Sometimes we tell ourselves, “Nothing is ever going to change, so why bother”, and so we do nothing.

This is faulty thinking because it gives us a free pass to do nothing. If you think one person can’t make a difference remember the names: Jesse Owens who won 4 Gold Medals during Hitler’s rein in Germany, shredding the Nazi ideology of aryan supremacy. Mother Teresa, who made it her life’s work to tend to the poor, sick and lonely. Jane Goodall, who through her work with chimpanzees, was a pioneering activist for environmental issues and animal kindness practices. You may say, “well, those were extreme cases or circumstances.” However, it only takes one person to change a relationship, and one person can have a positive effect on someone else’s life. It happens everyday. So why not make today the day?

Overly tired and distracted or burnt out

It takes less energy to ignore problems or minimize the impact of what is happening. This is where Self Care is so important. We simply cannot give what we do not have. Almost everyone understands this concept in relation to money… doesn’t matter how much you want to spend it, if you don’t have it, you can’t. However, when it comes to our energy, rest, health, focus and time, all too often, it can be too easy to ignore the obvious. When we take care of ourselves, we are better able to keep our personal, family and professional lives healthy. If you “know” that you are engaging in Willful Blindness in an area of your life and you know that to continue to do so puts yourself and others at risk, consider reorganizing your priorities and letting some of the less important things fall by the wayside. You will be glad you did.


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